Sciences and Exploration Directorate

Charon Melissa Birkett

(Rsch AST, Earth Sciences Remote Sens)


Org Code: 61A

Mail Code: 61A
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Employer: NASA

Brief Bio

Dr. Charon Birkett received a BSc in Physics/Astronomy from the University of Sheffield, U.K. and a Ph.D in Astronomy from the University of Leicester. After spending several years studying the physical and chemical attributes of comets and asteroids she switched to the Earth Sciences. While at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (University College London), focus was on exploring satellite-based Remote Sensing techniques, particularly radar altimetry and its application to monitoring the variation of continental surface waters.
Dr. Birkett came to the USA in 1997 via the USRA Visiting Scientist Program at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. She moved between the Oceans and Ice (under Chet Koblinsky) and Biospheric Physics (under Jim Tucker) Branches while continuing to promote altimetry for lake and river surface dynamics studies.
In October 2001, Dr. Birkett joined the Earth Science Interdisciplinary Center at the University of Maryland College Park winning a number of NASA and USDA grant awards relating to the various interdisciplinary themes such as water resources, climate change, river dynamics, and natural hazards. Joining the Geodesy and Geodynamics Lab at NASA/GSFC in July 2019, Dr. Birkett continues to explore altimetric techniques, both radar and lidar, but through collaborative efforts at Goddard is also looking to data fusion processes, those that blend altimetric, imaging, and bathymetric data sets to achieve global-scale continental water storage status information. This will entail utilizing a suite of satellite-based NASA and non-NASA instruments to achieve both historical timelines and current surface water conditions.
Overall, Dr. Birkett has 25years experience in the field of satellite remote sensing. Instrument performance, technique exploration and enhancement, and product development and application, are all central themes to her work. She has explored mission data sets ranging from the early NASA/NRL Seasat and Geosat missions, to the Topex/Jason series, as well as the ESA/ISRO/CNES ERS, ENVISAT, SARAL and Sentinel mission datasets. She pioneered the development of the operational USDA/NASA funded Global Reservoir and Lake Monitor and the NASA funded Global Water Monitor, and she serves on a number of science and mission working teams. Current projects address science questions relating to continental water storage dynamics and their potential contribution to global mean sea level. In addition, she continues to serve the stakeholder communities with a range of remote sensing products that aid in the monitoring of water resources for food, water, hydro-electric power, and natural hazards considerations.

Research Interests

Satellite Remote Sensing Techniques

Earth Science: Remote Sensing

Exploring new remote sensing techniques and creaing or enhacing data interpretation methodologies.

Continental Surface Water Dynamics

Earth Science: Hydrology / Water Cycle

Studying the temporal and spatial variability of surface water variations.

Applied Sciences/Water Resources

Earth Science: Human Dimensions

From research to operations. Serving the needs of a variety of stakeholders who have interests in global surface water resources, with resepct to agriculture (irrigation potential), domestic and industrial water and energy supply, navigation, and natural disasters (flood and drought).

Current Projects

The NASA/USDA Global Reservoir and Lake Monitor

Hydrology / Water Cycle

This is a NASA/USDA Applied Sciences project delivering remote-sensing derived surface water level products to the USDA/FAS for integration into the CropExplorer web based system. This USDA tool utilizes a range of remote sensing, model, and in situ datasets, to assess monthly crop conditions and statistics around the globe. The water-level products are a surrogate for the amount of water stored within lakes and reservoirs that could potentially be used for irrigation.

The project utilizes a number of NASA and non-NASA satellite data sets including radar altimeters onboard the Topex/POSEIDON, Jason series, SARAL, and Sentinel series).

The Global Water Monitor

Hydrology / Water Cycle

The Global Water Monitor project is a multi-group collaboration at NASA/GSFC that aims to utilize a suite of remote sensing data sets to create surface water products for lakes, reservoirs, river reaches, and wetlands. The GWM offers surface water level products for all inland water bodies, but additionally seeks to create surface water storage variations within lakes and reservoirs. This project serves a variety of stakeholders and is funded by the NASA Applied Sciences project office.

The project utilizes a number of NASA and non-NASA satellite data sets including altimeters (Topex, Jason series, SARAL, Sentinel series, ICESAt-2) and multi-sepctral imagers (Landsat, MODIS).

Global Surface Water Storage and Dynamics

Hydrology / Water Cycle

Using a variety of remotely-sensed products this project looks to the spatial and temporal variability of surface water stored within lakes, river reaches and wetlands. It currently looks to the identificiation of anthropogenic influences, particularly relevant to the increasing number of impoundments. The effects of change on both regional water cycles and global mean sea level change will ultimately be in focus.

The project utilizes a number of NASA and non-NASA satellite data sets including altimeters (Topex, Jason series, ICESAT-2) and multi-sepctral imagers (Landsat, MODIS).


Research AST Earth Sciences Remote Sensing

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - Greenbelt, MD

August 2019 - Present

Research Scientist

University of Maryland - College Park, MD

November 2001 - August 2019

Visiting Research Scientist

Universities Space Research Association (USRA) - NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD

May 1997 - October 2001



Bjerklie, D., M. Durand, J. Lenoir, et al. R. W. Dudley, C. Birkett, J. W. Jones, and M. Harlan. 2023. Satellite remote sensing of river discharge: a framework for assessing the accuracy of discharge estimates made from satellite remote sensing observations Journal of Applied Remote Sensing 17 (01): [10.1117/1.jrs.17.014520]

Getirana, A., S. Kumar, G. Konapala, et al. W. Nie, K. Locke, B. Loomis, C. Birkett, M. Ricko, and M. Simard. 2023. Climate and human impacts on hydrological processes and flood risk in southern Louisiana Water Resources Research [10.1029/2022wr033238]

Birkett, C. M., K. O'Brien, S. Kinsey, M. Ricko, and Y. Li. 2022. Enhancement of a global lake and reservoir database to aid climate studies and resource monitoring utilizing satellite radar altimetry Journal of Great Lakes Research 48 (1): 37-51 [10.1016/j.jglr.2021.11.013]

Elisa, M., E. Kihwele, E. Wolanski, and C. Birkett. 2021. Managing wetlands to solve the water crisis in the Katuma River ecosystem, Tanzania Ecohydrology & Hydrobiology [10.1016/j.ecohyd.2021.02.001]

Tortini, R., N. Noujdina, S. Yeo, et al. M. Ricko, C. M. Birkett, A. Khandelwal, V. Kumar, M. E. Marlier, and D. P. Lettenmaier. 2020. Satellite-based remote sensing data set of global surface water storage change from 1992 to 2018 Earth System Science Data 12 (2): 1141-1151 [10.5194/essd-12-1141-2020]

Bjerklie, D. M., C. M. Birkett, J. W. Jones, et al. C. Carabajal, J. A. Rover, J. W. Fulton, and P.-A. Garambois. 2018. Satellite remote sensing estimation of river discharge: Application to the Yukon River Alaska Journal of Hydrology 561 1000-1018 [10.1016/j.jhydrol.2018.04.005]

Kihwele, E., E. Muse, E. Magomba, et al. B. Mnaya, A. Nassoro, P. Banga, E. Murashani, D. Irmamasita, H. Kiwango, C. Birkett, and E. Wolanski. 2018. Restoring the perennial Great Ruaha River using ecohydrology, engineering and governance methods in Tanzania Ecohydrology & Hydrobiology 18 (2): 120-129 [10.1016/j.ecohyd.2017.10.008]

Nguy-Robertson, A., J. May, S. Dartevelle, et al. C. Birkett, E. Lucero, T. Russo, S. Griffin, J. Miller, R. Tetrault, and M. Zentner. 2018. Inferring elevation variation of lakes and reservoirs from areal extents: Calibrating with altimeter and in situ data Remote Sensing Applications: Society and Environment 9 116-125 [10.1016/j.rsase.2018.01.001]

Hossain, F., M. Srinivasan, C. Peterson, et al. A. Andral, E. Beighley, E. Anderson, R. Amini, C. Birkett, D. Bjerklie, C. A. Blain, S. Cherchali, C. H. David, B. Doorn, J. Escurra, L.-L. Fu, C. Frans, J. Fulton, S. Gangopadhay, S. Ghosh, C. Gleason, M. Gosset, J. Hausman, G. Jacobs, J. Jones, Y. Kaheil, B. Laignel, P. Le Moigne, L. Li, F. Lefèvre, R. Mason, A. Mehta, A. Mukherjee, A. Nguy-Robertson, S. Ricci, A. Paris, T. Pavelsky, N. Picot, G. Schumann, S. Shrestha, P.-Y. Le Traon, and E. Trehubenko. 2017. Engaging the User Community for Advancing Societal Applications of the Surface Water Ocean Topography Mission Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 98 (11): ES285-ES290 [10.1175/bams-d-17-0161.1]

Brown, M. E., S. Delgado Arias, T. Neumann, et al. M. F. Jasinski, P. Posey, G. Babonis, N. F. Glenn, C. M. Birkett, V. M. Escobar, and T. Markus. 2016. Applications for ICESat-2 Data: From NASA's Early Adopter Program IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Magazine 4 (4): 24-37 [10.1109/mgrs.2016.2560759]

Ričko, M., C. M. Birkett, J. A. Carton, and J.-F. Crétaux. 2013. Publisher’s Note: Intercomparison and validation of continental water level products derived from satellite radar altimetry Journal of Applied Remote Sensing 6 (1): 060103 [10.1117/1.jrs.6.060103]

Ričko, M., C. M. Birkett, J. A. Carton, and J.-F. Crétaux. 2012. Intercomparison and validation of continental water level products derived from satellite radar altimetry Journal of Applied Remote Sensing 6 (1): 061710 [10.1117/1.jrs.6.061710]

Gao, H., C. Birkett, and D. P. Lettenmaier. 2012. Global monitoring of large reservoir storage from satellite remote sensing Water Resources Research 48 (9): [10.1029/2012wr012063]

Kihwele, E., B. Mnaya, G. Meng’ataki, C. Birkett, and E. Wolanski. 2012. The role of vegetation in the water budget of the Usangu wetlands, Tanzania Wetlands Ecology and Management 20 (5): 389-398 [10.1007/s11273-012-9260-8]

Ricko, M., J. A. Carton, and C. Birkett. 2011. Climatic Effects on Lake Basins. Part I: Modeling Tropical Lake Levels Journal of Climate 24 (12): 2983-2999 [10.1175/2010jcli3602.1]

Becker-Reshef, I., C. Justice, M. Sullivan, et al. E. Vermote, C. Tucker, A. Anyamba, J. Small, E. Pak, E. Masuoka, J. Schmaltz, M. Hansen, K. Pittman, C. M. Birkett, D. Williams, C. Reynolds, and B. Doorn. 2010. Monitoring Global Croplands with Coarse Resolution Earth Observations: The Global Agriculture Monitoring (GLAM) Project Remote Sensing 2 (6): 1589-1609 [10.3390/rs2061589]

Birkett, C. M., and B. D. Beckley. 2010. Investigating the Performance of the Jason-2/OSTM Radar Altimeter over Lakes and Reservoirs Marine Geodesy 33 (sup1): 204-238 [10.1080/01490419.2010.488983]

Crétaux, J.-F., and C. Birkett. 2006. Lake studies from satellite radar altimetry Comptes Rendus Geoscience 338 (14-15): 1098-1112 [10.1016/j.crte.2006.08.002]

Coe, M. T., and C. M. Birkett. 2004. Calculation of river discharge and prediction of lake height from satellite radar altimetry: Example for the Lake Chad basin Water Resources Research 40 (10): [10.1029/2003wr002543]

Coe, M. T., M. H. Costa, A. Botta, and C. M. Birkett. 2002. Long-term simulations of discharge and floods in the Amazon Basin J. Geophysical Research - Atmospheres 107 (D20): 8044 [10.1029/2001JD000740]

Rosenqvist, Å., and C. M. Birkett. 2002. Evaluation of JERS-1 SAR mosaics for hydrological applications in the Congo river basin International Journal of Remote Sensing 23 (7): 1283-1302 [10.1080/01431160110092902]

Birkett, C. M., L. Mertes, T. Dunne, M. Costa, and M. Jasinski. 2002. Surface water dynamics in the Amazon Basin: Application of satellite radar altimetry Journal of Geophysical Research 107 (D20): 8059 [10.1029/2001jd000609]

Alsdorf, D., C. Birkett, T. Dunne, J. Melack, and L. Hess. 2001. Water level changes in a large Amazon lake measured with spaceborne radar interferometry and altimetry Geophysical Research Letters 28 (14): 2671-2674 [10.1029/2001gl012962]

Vorosmarty, C., A. Askew, W. Grabs, et al. R. G. Barry, C. Birkett, P. Doll, B. Goodison, A. Hall, R. Jenne, L. Kitaev, J. Landwehr, M. Keeler, G. Leavesley, J. Schaake, K. Strzepek, S. S. Sundarvel, K. Takeuchi, and F. Webster. 2001. Global water data: A newly endangered species Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union 82 (5): 54-54 [10.1029/01eo00031]

Sarch, M.-T., and C. Birkett. 2000. Fishing and Farming at Lake Chad: Responses to Lake-level Fluctuations The Geographical Journal 166 (2): 156-172 [10.1111/j.1475-4959.2000.tb00015.x]

Birkett, C. 2000. Synergistic Remote Sensing of Lake Chad Variability of Basin Inundation Remote Sensing of Environment 72 (2): 218-236 [10.1016/s0034-4257(99)00105-4]

Birkett, C., R. Murtugudde, and T. Allan. 1999. Indian Ocean Climate event brings floods to East Africa's lakes and the Sudd Marsh Geophysical Research Letters 26 (8): 1031-1034 [10.1029/1999gl900165]

Birkett, C. M. 1998. Contribution of the TOPEX NASA Radar Altimeter to the global monitoring of large rivers and wetlands Water Resources Research 34 (5): 1223-1239 [10.1029/98wr00124]

Birkett, C. M. 1995. The contribution of TOPEX/POSEIDON to the global monitoring of climatically sensitive lakes Journal of Geophysical Research 100 (C12): 25179 [10.1029/95jc02125]

Scott, R. F., S. G. Baker, C. M. Birkett, et al. W. Cudlip, S. W. Laxon, D. R. Mantripp, J. A. Mansley, J. G. Morley, C. G. Rapley, J. K. Ridley, F. Strawbridge, and D. J. Wingham. 1994. A comparison of the performance of the ice and ocean tracking modes of the ERS-1 radar altimeter over non-ocean surfaces Geophysical Research Letters 21 (7): 553-556 [10.1029/94gl00178]

Birkett, C. M., S. F. Green, J. C. Zarnecki, and K. S. Russell. 1987. Infrared and optical observations of low-activity comets, P/Arend-Rigaux (1984k) and P/Neujmin 1 (1984c) Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 225 (2): 285-296 [10.1093/mnras/225.2.285]

Russell, K. S., J. A. Dawe, C. M. Birkett, D. J. Adams, and A. J. Meadows. 1985. Observations of Comet Crommelin - I. Morphology and C2 production rate Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 217 (3): 651-658 [10.1093/mnras/217.3.651]


Birkett, C. M., M. Ricko, K. O'Brien, S. Kinsey, and Y. Li. 2021. Expansion and Enhancement of a Global Lake and Reservoir Database to aid Climate Studies and Resource Monitoring Journal of Great Lakes Research 48 (1): 37-51 [10.1016/j.jglr.2021.11.013]

Fekete, B., A. Andreu, R. Argent, et al. T. Avellan, C. M. Birkett, S. Caucci, S. Cohen, T. Dube, S. Kirschke, and U. Looser. 2021. Observations, Monitoring and Data Management Handbook of Water Management, Chapter 13

Birkett, C. M., D. Alsdorf, and D. J. Harding. 2005. Hydrological applications of remote sensing: surface state - river and water body stage, width and gradient from satellite radar altimetry, interferometric SAR, and laser altimetry The encyclopedia of hydrological sciences, Volume 2, Hydrological application of remote sensing: surface states 5 903-918 [10.1002/0470848944.hsa065]